Allium Sativum Sativum
Introducing Allium Sativum Sativum; aka, softneck garlic. The most domesticated of all the garlics and the commercial grower's best friend. Softneck garlics are called such because their pseudostems are soft and flexible. They don't produce a scape and umbel, which is most likely due to mankind having "bred" that characteristic out of it over centuries of selective planting. Why?
Italian Artichoke - Softneck
Without a scape, all the plant's energies can go toward producing large, beautiful bulbs. And perhaps more importantly, the soft, pliable pseudostem allows commercial farmers to use machinery when planting since the clove can be plopped in the ground without consideration of orientation; upside-down, sideways... it simply doesn't matter. Nearly all commercial garlic, be it from Gilroy, California or China or wherever, is softneck. Given the huge variety of rich and exciting garlic in the world, this is a little on the boring side; but it makes it possible to have as much garlic in the world as we do... 22,280,000 tons in 2009. Imagine planting that by hand!
On the Tongue
Despite the market being flooded with only a very few (two in the U.S; California Early and California Late) variety of Artichokes, there are a great many out there to experiment with. Ted Jordan Meredith has this to say, "At their worst, Artichoke cultivars can taste simple and vegetative. The best, however, have very good flavor. Broadly speaking, they may not have the rich, sweet depth of the best Rocambole cultivars, or the complex flavor intensity of Purple Stripe cultivars, but at their best they offer fairly complex, milder, more high-toned flavors of their own."
In the Field
The plants are shorter than hardneck varieties, probably because the soft pseudostem would be incapable of supporting a taller plant. But don't let the height fool you, large bulbs, in the three inch range, are common. The cloves form in multiple layers around the center of the bulb, with many small cloves clustered in the middle. This can make peeling a a bit tedious if you're preparing a meal for twenty, but it benefits the cook preparing a dish for two. Bulbils can form but not atop a scape; when present they are found right within the pseudostem, usually near the base just above the bulb.
Cultivars We Typically Carry
Exceptional flavor in the Artichoke family of garlics.
Relatively cool when first harvested and as it cures the heat begins to build. A reliable Artichoke for production farming.
Hailing from the Republic of Georgia and originally called Red Tochliavri (Tochliavri is the village where it was discovered) Red Toch is a robust and richly colored Artichoke with distinctive character. Harvest when first leaf shows signs of browning. Stores very well.